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Anosmia: No, You’re Not Imagining Your Loss of Smell


 

Imagine waking up one morning and not being able to smell your coffee. Or your breakfast. Or your favorite perfume. Or anything at all. That's what it's like to have anosmia, a condition that causes a complete loss of the sense of smell. While some people, around 5% of the population are born with this condition, some develop it later in life, or only partially lose their sense of smell (hyposmia).


In this post, we will explore anosmia, its causes and symptoms, testing, its impact on our lives, and how you can cope with it.



Understanding Anosmia - The Loss of Smell

Anosmia is a condition where a person experiences a diminished or complete loss of their sense of smell. Our sense of smell is closely connected to our sense of taste, so anosmia can significantly impact our ability to savor and enjoy the flavors of our favorite foods. It can also affect our overall quality of life since smell plays a crucial role in how we perceive the world around us.



Causes

There are various factors and conditions that can lead to anosmia. Some of the common causes include:

  • Upper Respiratory Infections or COVID-19: The common cold, flu, or sinus infections can cause temporary anosmia. As the infection resolves, so does the loss of smell.

    • Chronic or Allergic Rhinitis: Chronic or allergic rhinitis can impair the sense of smell by causing nasal congestion, inflammation, increased mucus production, and a diminished sensitivity of the olfactory receptors. Learn more about chronic rhinitis here and explore further details about allergic rhinitis on this page.

    • Sinusitis: Mucus and inflammation due to sinus infections may result in a total or partial loss of smell. Dive deeper into the topic of sinusitis—find out more here.

  • Nasal Polyps: Benign growths in the nasal passages can block the airflow and inhibit the sense of smell. Read more about nasal polyps and their removal here.

  • Nasal Obstruction: A partial or complete blockage of one or both nasal passages may cause a reduced sense of smell. Learn more about nasal obstruction here.

  • Head Injuries: Trauma to the head can damage the olfactory nerve, leading to anosmia.

  • Age: As we age, the sense of smell can naturally decline.

  • Neurological Conditions: Certain neurological conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis can affect the sense of smell.

  • Toxins and Medications: Exposure to certain chemicals and medications, such as chemotherapy drugs, can result in anosmia.

  • Genetics: Anosmia can also be a result of genetic factors, although this is less common.


Symptoms

The primary symptom of anosmia is the inability to smell anything. Some people with anosmia may also experience a change in their sense of taste, as the senses of smell and taste are closely linked.


Other symptoms of anosmia may include:

  • Difficulty enjoying food and drink

  • Reduced appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Difficulty detecting smoke, gas, and other dangerous odors

  • Increased risk of depression


Testing for Anosmia at Home

If you weren't born with congenital anosmia, deciphering whether or not you have truly lost your sense of smell can be confusing. Testing for anosmia can be done at home with some simple self-assessment methods. Keep in mind that these methods can provide an initial indication but are not a substitute for a professional diagnosis. If you suspect anosmia, it's advisable to consult a healthcare provider for a comprehensive evaluation.


Here are some ways to test for anosmia at home:


The Sniff Test

Choose a few familiar and strongly scented items like coffee, spices, or essential oils. Close your eyes and have someone else present each item to you one at a time.

Sniff each item and try to identify the scent. If you can't detect the aroma or it seems significantly reduced, it could be a sign of anosmia.


Common Odors

Pay attention to your reaction to everyday odors in your environment, such as food cooking, flowers, or perfumes. If you notice that you're not detecting these smells as easily as before, it may be an indication of anosmia.


A 3x3 grid collage; from left to right: sliced oranges, apple cider vinegar, mint leaves, baked bread, human nose, flowers, coffee beans, rain, fish.
Getty Images / Pixabay / Dmitry Rukhlenko / Pexels

Impact on Quality of Life

Anosmia can have a profound impact on a person's life. To date, it has been associated with various medical conditions and disorders, encompassing neurodegenerative, respiratory, and even mental health issues. People who have not regained their sense of smell often report experiencing depression and struggling to maintain a healthy diet.


Beyond the inability to enjoy the pleasures of tasting food, it can also affect personal safety. We rely on our sense of smell to detect gas leaks, smoke, spoiled food, and other hazards. Losing this sense can make daily tasks more challenging and potentially dangerous.


Moreover, anosmia can lead to emotional and social consequences. It may affect one's ability to detect body odors or gauge their hygiene. This can lead to self-consciousness and even social isolation.


Post COVID-19 Anosmia

In recent findings published in the journal – Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, the risk of losing one’s sense of smell and taste has gone down to 6-7% of what it used to be as compared to early 2020. While a lot of those who suffered from anosmia as a result of COVID-19 have recovered, some were unable to regain their sense of smell.


Most people who experience a loss of taste or smell regain these senses within a month. Recovery rates showed improvement with time, but approximately 5% of individuals reported "persistent impairment" in their sense of taste or smell six months following their COVID-19 infection.


Coping with Anosmia

While there is no treatment for primary anosmia itself, there are ways to help manage or tackle the root cause of this condition. If you or someone you know is dealing with anosmia, consider these options:


  1. Consult a Healthcare Professional: If you experience a sudden and unexplained loss of smell, it's crucial to consult a doctor. They can help determine the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment.

  2. Practice Safety: Since anosmia can impact your ability to detect certain dangers, be extra cautious. Install smoke detectors, use natural gas detectors, and regularly check the expiration dates of food items.

  3. Use spices and herbs to flavor your food: Eat foods with strong flavors and textures. Spices and herbs can add a lot of flavor to food, even if you can't smell them. Experiment with different combinations to find what you like best.

  4. Support Groups: Joining support groups or seeking therapy can provide emotional support and practical advice for living with anosmia.

  5. Experimental Treatments: Some experimental treatments and therapies may help restore or improve the sense of smell in some cases. Discuss these options with your healthcare provider.


Anosmia is not a condition to be dismissed or ignored. It is real, and its impact on our lives can be significant. If you or someone you know is experiencing anosmia, remember that you are not imagining the loss of your sense of smell. While anosmia can be challenging, with the right support and strategies, people can continue to lead fulfilling and satisfying lives.



 

Doctor consulting with patient and checking their condition with a form.
Ngampol Thongsai @ Getty Images

Get checked by an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist for your Anosmia, book a consultation with us at ENT Family!


Investigate and rule out any potential underlying medical conditions contributing to your anosmia—trust ENT Family for expert care and peace of mind.


Address: 3911 Hollywood Blvd suite 201, Hollywood, FL 33021, United States

Phone: 754-888-1368

Email: info@entfamily.com


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Dr. David Eleff, Otolaryngologist/Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist at ENT Family in Hollywood, Florida.

This article has been medically reviewed by  otolaryngologist, David Eleff, M.D.

ENT Family Blog

3911 Hollywood Blvd, Suite 201, Hollywood, FL

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